Cal Fire Adds World’s Largest Air Tanker to Fleet

MCCLELLAN -- The latest and biggest firefighting tool the State of California has against raging wildfires is based in Sacramento.

McClellan Air Force Base is home to a Global Supertanker Boeing 747 supertanker, the only one in use in the United States.

The plane is massive. It's also very busy at the height of the 2017 fire season. It came to Northern California just a week ago to help with the destructive Ponderosa Fire.

"Having the 747 in our tool box allows us to lay down a substantial amount of retardant in a short amount of time over a large area," Cal Fire spokesperson Bryce Bennett said.

The 747 carries nearly 19,000 pounds of retardant, which is enough for a drop a mile-and-a-half long. Cal Fire's next biggest tanker, the DC-10, carries just 12,000 pounds of retardant. However, the smaller DC-10 is easier to maneuver through tight canyons where many wildfires end up.

"But if that incident goes longer and becomes a much larger incident, sometimes our aircraft aren't the right tool for the fight, and that's where we go to the larger air tankers," Bennett told FOX40.

The question with the 747  is how long it will be in the state. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection contracted the plane to help with the Ponderosa Fire, but it is now helping with other fires across the state.

But at a cost of $16,000 an hour, it gives state and fire officials a lot to think about.